Friday, December 8, 2017

Oscar Got It Wrong!: Best Original Screenplay 1952

The Contenders:

The Atomic City
The Lavender Hill Mob (winner)
Pat and Mike
The Sound Barrier
Viva Zapata!

What’s Missing

I’m stunned by the nominations for this award and this year. There’s probably one I’d keep, two at most. Two foreign films jump out at me of being worthy of consideration. The first, Ikiru, is Kurosawa’s most heartfelt film and the second, Umberto D is the sort of grueling fare that Oscar often loves. Bette Davis vehicle The Star might have been an interesting addition over a few of the films that have been included. I have varying release dates for Angel Face, with IMDB claiming it is a 1953 film and Letterboxd putting it in 1952. If it’s eligible, I’d want it here. The big miss, though, is Singin’ in the Rain. I’m of the opinion that the win for An American in Paris the previous year left it out of contention in general, and that’s just not right.

Weeding through the Nominees

5. The Atomic City might be getting a bad rap from me because so much of it is reminiscent of early episodes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 when they were doing Cold War films. It has some really interesting ideas—the son of an H-bomb scientist is kidnapped by communists with the ransom being paid in formulas. It’s dead slow, though, and that’s a real problem when it comes to being the best original screenplay of its year. Having interesting ideas isn’t nearly enough even for consideration.

4. Viva Zapata! is a film that was penned by no less a luminary than John Goddam Steinbeck. So what’s it doing in fourth place? Well, Steinbeck was always going to be a man who wore his heart on his sleeve when it came to the poor and downtrodden of society. Because of this, Viva Zapata! comes off as less a film about a Mexican folk hero (played by Brando in some strange whitewashing) than it does a piece of hagiography. It might be a better film than I think it is, but not by much.

3. Pat and Mike is fluff. It’s pretty good fluff, but it’s also nothing more than a sports-oriented romantic film with a stellar cast. I’ll watch a lot of Spencer Tracy/Katherine Hepburn films because of the two of them, and I’ll put up with a great deal of nonsense because of who they were on screen, but with Pat and Mike, we’ve got something that is completely predictable. That’s disappointing. The most interesting thing in the film is appearances by real-life sports heroes of the day, and while the screenplay might call for them, it doesn’t get any credit for it.

2. I said at the top that I might keep two films here. Seeing The Sound Barrier move into second place has me rethinking that comment. There’s nothing overtly wrong with the film. In fact, there are a few places where it manages to be surprising. I like the subject matter as well; I’ve always been a sucker for NASA-based films, and The Sound Barrier comes across as a sort of pre-NASA drama. In a straight contest, though, I don’t think I would award it a nomination. That I can say that about the film I’m putting in second indicates how weak I think this entire field is.

1. Based on the five nominations, The Lavender Hill Mob was the right choice. Its strength lies in the fact that, while it’s not laugh-out-loud funny, it is clever. It’s both a caper film and a comedy, which means it also needs to work on multiple levels, and it generally does. The characters are memorable, and, unusual for heist films, the main criminal characters are both sweet and endearing. Given the five options presented, Oscar did the best it could, and this is where my vote would have gone. On this blog, though, I’m not limited to the five choices.

My Choice

Singin’ in the Rain is the only choice here. Sure, the main sell of the movie is the musical parts of it, and those parts of it are truly great. However, like The Lavender Hill Mob, it has to work on multiple levels. It’s a musical, a comedy, and a romance all at the same time, and all of the aspects of it work. The characters are memorable and fun, the new songs are great, and the story is a hoot. Sure, the ending routing goes on a bit long, but so what? It’s the greatest musical ever made, and for it not to even be nominated is criminal.

Final Analysis


  1. It's impossible to argue with you on this one!

    1. I'll accept that. It really is a wonder of a movie, isn't it?

  2. Singin' in the Rain is on all accounts a better movie than Ikiru, except maybe on screenplay. I think in that category I would go with Ikiru.

    1. We'll disagree on that, but Ikiru would definitely be in my list of nominations.